Rational control of structural off-state heterogeneity in a photoswitchable fluorescent protein provides switching contrast enhancement


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Reversibly photoswitchable fluorescent proteins are essential markers for advanced biological imaging, and optimization of their photophysical properties underlies improved performance and novel applications. Here we establish a link between photoswitching contrast, a key parameter that largely dictates the achievable resolution in nanoscopy applications, and chromophore conformation in the non-fluorescent state of rsEGFP2, a widely employed label in REversible Saturable OpticaL Fluorescence Transitions (RESOLFT) microscopy. Upon illumination, the cis chromophore of rsEGFP2 isomerizes to two distinct off -state conformations, trans1 and trans2 , located on either side of the V151 side chain. Reducing or enlarging the side chain at this position (V151A and V151L variants) leads to single off -state conformations that exhibit higher and lower switching contrast, respectively, compared to the rsEGFP2 parent. The combination of structural information obtained by serial femtosecond crystallography with high-level quantum chemical calculations and with spectroscopic and photophysical data determined in vitro suggests that the changes in switching contrast arise from blue- and red-shifts of the absorption bands associated to trans1 and trans2 , respectively. Thus, due to elimination of trans2 , the V151A variants of rsEGFP2 and its superfolding variant rsFolder2 display a more than two-fold higher switching contrast than their respective parent proteins, both in vitro and in E. coli cells. The application of the rsFolder2-V151A variant is demonstrated in RESOLFT nanoscopy. Our study rationalizes the connection between structural and photophysical chromophore properties and suggests a means to rationally improve fluorescent proteins for nanoscopy applications. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.
photoswitchable fluorescent protein,contrast
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